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Victorian Reverse Painted & Carved Rock Crystal Tie Pin of a Goldfinch By Pradier

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An unusual tie pin of a goldfinch sitting among the branches of an oak tree with acorns. The goldfinch is native to Europe. It has a red face and a black and white head, buff chest and black wings with a broad yellow bar and black tail.
The process used to create this miniature work of art is called “reverse intaglio”. The technique began in Europe, and has been attributed to a Belgian artist named Emile Marius Pradier. In England around 1860 Thomas Cooke also began making crystals for Lambeth and Company in England. Crystal carving and painting has always been a family enterprise and is one of the few art forms of modern times to develop in secrecy, being passed on from one generation to the next and is considered to be one of the highest art forms as rock crystal is incredibly hard to engrave. The quality and detail in this tie pin is amazing. There is a branch that nearly reaches the surface of the crystal. Pradier often displayed his artistry by taking the risk of the crystal shattering by doing this, so this pin may well have been executed by him.
The precise physical process of the reverse carved intaglio crystal is a long and tedious one. Rock crystal mined in Brazil and Madagascar is cut with diamond saws and then ground to the perfect cabochon. This procedure could take as many as twenty different grades of polish, and the entire process is done by hand. Once the stone is shaped, the design is drawn on the reverse side of the crystal with water colour. The image is then etched into the piece of stone with a scribe pencil.
The engraving begins with handmade soft steel tools. As many as 250 of these tools may be used to execute this process. The crystal is carved with a paste made from a combination of oil and diamond dust. When the image has been completed to the artist’s satisfaction, he begins painting the crystal. Just as in the carving phase, the painting is done in reverse. Sometimes the brushes that are used have only a single hair.
The quality of a fine crystal far outweighs the setting. However, the early Victorian mountings are generally as much a work of art as the crystal itself. The mount on this crystal is 18ct gold and is decorated with a rope twist and bead work.

Written by Olly Gerrish

A really finely carved rock crystal by Pradier

Date & OriginVictorian (1839-1901), English
MeasurementsHeight 2.2 cm
Width 1.8 cm
Length of pin 7.7 cm
ConditionExcellent
HallmarksUnmarked, tested to 18ct gold
ProvenanceEnglish